Saturday, January 21, 2006


It might not be popular to say it in some circles, but I was never really a big fan of The Fast Show. It was, and is still, hugely over-rated and consisted almost entirely of the weekly repetition of the exact same sketches in which the audience, a bit like Pavlov's trained dogs, were expected to respond automatically, habitually, to the same stimuli over and over again. Here's a scruffy man coming out of a garden shed, here he goes - 'This week, I have been mostly...' ... aaaand...(wait for it)... there's the punchline! Ha ha ha ha... only seen that 25 times before. Of course, this kind of comedy by recognition, anticipation, delivery and repetition ad nauseum has been carried to its furthest possible limits (or at least I hope so) by the now thoroughly awful, worn out and pathetic Little Britain (spit).

There were, however, one or two Fast Show sketches that I thought were very good - 'Ted and Ralph', of course, (though I'd hardly say that it was particularly funny), and, in addition, the much less remembered 'Monkfish' sketch. The 'Monkfish' sketch, if you remember, was the mock TV trailer for an upcoming prime-time drama series about a 'John Monkfish', a 'maverick cop', or 'maverick doctor', or 'maverick vet' (Monkfish's profession kept changing each time, getting progressively more and more silly). It showed Monkfish speeding through a country lane in a Range Rover, thumping a table, bursting through a door, punching a villain etc etc while the voice over informed us something like, 'Monkfish: a maverick vet, who doesn't play by the rules to get things done ...' and so on. It was one of the few Fast Show Sketches which actually suited endless repetition, because that repetition added to its satirical impact. It was essentially a very sharp piss take about the endless production of formulaic TV cop show dramas - all of which, essentially feature the same plot and the same kind of central character. Each reproduction from the prime time drama mass production line attempts to make its hero quirky in some way - a 'maverick', anti-establishment, flawed, etc - but precisely because each version tries to differentiate its central character in essentially the same way they all end up so similar that it's hard to tell them apart. Their manufactured 'idiosyncracy' makes them all exactly alike.

Now, TV writers and producers are, I imagine pretty intelligent people. You'd think that a well observed sketch like 'Monkfish' which lands pretty heavy blows, I think, on the prime time drama format, might have made some kind of difference. They must have seen it. But it seems to have made little difference. A few years on, ITV and BBC are churning out the same old shite, and in fact, I'm convinced that a recent BBC series represents the apotheosis of the 'Monkfish' genre - it would be hard to get any more ridiculously 'Monkfish' than the series I'm thinking of. Before I come to it, I should perhaps mention that it's not just prime time drama producers that continue to commit this particular form of crime. I can't watch ITV News (especially if that bombastic idiot John Suchet is presenting), without thinking that Chris Morris essentially failed. I find it hard to fathom how TV News presenters and producers can carry on doing what they do without the slightest sign of any reduction in the almost tangible pomposity which accompanies their business after The Day Today and Brass Eye. Do they have no shame?

Anyway, back to 'Monkfish'. I had the misfortune of watching an episode of Judge John Deed recently. I could not believe what I was seeing. Judge John Deed, it appears, is a 'maverick High Court Judge, who doesn't play by the rules to get things done....'. In fact it was so bloody 'Monkfish' that I found the episode hugely enjoyable. I did wonder, for a little while, whether the whole thing is a very clever, very dry satire - a comedy for initiates only. I made sure that I read through the after show credits in case the name Chris Morris cropped up.

It didn't of course.

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